Thursday, February 12, 2009

Romance & Cigarettes (2005)

  The story is simple. Told and retold by various artists from every country and decade. Romance & Cigarettes is about the folly of the male libido. It charts how one man's sexual proclivities drag him deeper into humiliating circumstances till finally the specter of death grants him one chance to repent. Nick Murder, played by James Gandolfini, is a man who cheats on his wife for the most common reason their is, boredom. Nick's home life is relatively uncomplicated and Gandolfini eschews the obvious masculine trotting that many actors in that role would have played up, and instead brings out the comic pathos of a man suffering from the insecurity that the measure of a man's virility is the number of women he can bed.
  Nick Murder is a character that wouldn't be uncommon in a Greek tragedy. He is doomed even before the story has started. As his wife and mother remind him, he comes from a long line of whoremasters. He is a man with compromised values believing in the idea of love, but not quite able to express his love in a proper way. Nick is drowning in his own vulgarity; reducing romance into a few sexual acts. It is interesting to note that his wife, Kitty, played by Susan Sarandon, and his mistress, Tula, played by Kate Winslet, are both redheads, very outspoken, and each has a job connected in some way to the making and/or selling of female garments. Tula works in a lingerie shop and Kitty is a seamstress who specializes in wedding gowns.
  Although Tula is shown to be crude, cheap, and unrefined she is really more of a victim of her emotions. For Nick, being with Tula fulfills in him a typical male fantasy of being with a woman more than willing to fulfill every sexual fantasy he could think of. She's willing to talk dirty to him, contort her body into whatever sexual position he wants, and even more importantly she seems to want nothing for it, or at least that's what Nick thinks. For as we see in a flashback sequence Tula expresses to Nick her sincere feelings for him. She genuinely loves him; she isn't naive and her attraction towards him is not so much based on his physical appearance. Tula mistakes Nick's amorous intentions and his circumcising his penis as declarations of his love for her. The reality of the situation though is that he is merely doing what he believes will keep her from getting bored with him.
  In a completely opposite spectrum Kitty is Nick's long-suffering wife. She is neglected and relegated to household chores. She has given up much of her own life to basically take care of Nick and their three daughters and although she hates him for what he has done to her Kitty can't just throw all those years away. For Kitty, it's not so much that Nick had sex with Tula, but of all the attention he shows her. It might have been in bad taste to write vulgar personal notes to her and get himself circumcised, but it is more attention than Kitty has received from him in years.
  John Turturro, the film's writer and director, came up with the idea for the film more than ten years ago when he was working on the Coen brothers film Barton Fink and over the years built the script up slowly working on scene after scene till they all fit beautifully together. Turturro has labeled his film as a "musical of the common man" and, in my opinion, more aptly as a "homemade musical" since the soundtrack for the film avoids the usual orchestral or composer specific score. The soundtrack instead reads like a mixtape proudly flaunting songs by Englebert Humperdink, Dusty Springfield, Connie Francis, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, and many more. And even during the musical sequences Turturro has the original song recording mixed in with the actor's voices; making it seem like we are catching the characters in a cathartic moment trying to exorcise their emotional demons through song and dance.
  The characters in the film express what they feel through the only way they can, through pop songs. Music is a form of transportation for them because they can't afford to go and travel. They must use the materials of television, movies, music, and pop culture to manufacture their dreams. With this film Turturro is commenting on the fact that we are all guilty, to varying degrees, of viewing reality through the prism of pop culture. The people and products that the media and advertisers bombard us with on a daily basis form our own ideas about who we are. To prefer one type of food snack over another, to idolize over a specific band, or praise a film that many people have ignored is making just as powerful a personal statement as saying you were a Democrat or a Republican.

4 comments:

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